New Methuen Zoning Would Bring More Housing Downtown

A consultant’s drawing illustrates possible development of Methuen Square. (Courtesy graphic.)

New housing, commercial spaces and riverfront walks is the hope for Methuen’s downtown as the city considers adopting a “Smart Growth Zoning Overlay District.”

During a series of meetings Thursday, Mayor Stephen N. Zanni, members of the Department of Economic and Community Development and the city’s design firm, Harriman, presented the possibilities. The overlay district is allowed under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40R.

“Our goal with 40R is to better utilize the space we have in the city to best allow for economic development growth,” Zanni said. “We want downtown Methuen to be an attractive place where businesses have the best opportunity to flourish and visitors are compelled to stop and experience all we have to offer.”

The city seeks to achieve five goals: support and attract a set of complementary uses that will foster a full and vital downtown; retain and reuse historic buildings so that they contribute to the character and economic success of the district; provide access, views, amenities and places along the river as a distinguishing feature of the downtown; reorganize streets, intersections, crosswalks and sidewalks to make the district more convenient, safe and easier to navigate; and create an “eminently walkable downtown that is interesting and pleasant for pedestrians.”

If the city decides to adopt the new zoning plan, officials said, there could be up to 600 new housing units—450 in new construction and 150 in renovated historic buildings; up to 80,000 square feet of retail/commercial space—60,000 in new construction and 20,000 in renovated historic buildings; up to a half-mile of new riverfront walks; and up to a quarter mile of the Methuen Rail Trail within the downtown area.

“This action plan gives us a blueprint to revitalize our historic downtown and positions Methuen to receive additional funding and resources to implement our vision,” said William Buckley, director of Economic and Community Development. “The new zoning will help to unlock the development potential that exists throughout the area to create a downtown we can be proud of. New private investment is required to achieve that. So much potential is there.”